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Re: "Whatness of Bookness", by Philip Smith
- To: Multiple recipients of list BOOK_ARTS-L <BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Subject: Re: "Whatness of Bookness", by Philip Smith
- From: "Jack C. Thompson" <tcl@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 29 Sep 1996 07:43:28 -0800
- Message-id: <199609300232.TAA19075@SUL-Server-2.Stanford.EDU>
- Sender: "The Book Arts: binding, typography, collecting" <BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
On Friday, 27 September, 1996, Peter Verheyen posted a short essay by
Philip Smith entitled: "The Whatness of Bookness."
It is full of, what appears to me, circular logic. What follows is an
edited version of his essay with my comments and questions; in deference to
Philip's copyright request, the full text of his essay follows the edited
I should say that Philip and I have known each other for some years and
that I have the greatest respect for him and his work; there are simply
some elements of this essay which puzzle me.
Jack C. Thompson
"The Whatness of Bookness
"Bookness: The qualities which have to do with a book. In its simplest
meaning the term covers the packaging of multiple planes held together in
fixed or variable sequence by some kind of hinging mechanism, support, or
container, associated with a visual/verbal content called a text. The term
should not strictly speaking include pre-codex carriers of text such as the
scroll or the clay tablet, in fact nothing on a single leaf or planar
surface such as a TV screen, poster or hand-bill. ..."
To me, a book is a three-dimensional functional object. I agree with the
term "...packaging of multiple planes held together in fixed ... sequence,"
but do not agree that "variable sequence" infuses an object with bookness.
A three-ring binder holds multiple planes in variable sequence, but it
remains a binder, not a book.
"A text can be inscribed on anything but this does not make it a book, or
have the quality of bookness, ..."
The sheets of paper a bookie holds may be making book, but is it "bookness"?
(Not exactly a response, but the image appealed to me, so....)
"The book is not the text, although it is traditionally associated with it,
and these two elements appear often to be mistaken for the same thing. The
book is the hinged multi-planar vehicle...."
By now, I'm really puzzled. The logic is coming full circle.
"The notion that an artist may call anything he likes a 'work of art' or a
'book', because he says so, is the extreme of sloppy thinking and
contravenes everything we regard as leading to truth, notwithstanding
Marcell Duchamp! ..."
As a book and paper conservator I consider myself to be a mechanic or
craftsman, not an artist in any sense of the word which I understand.
Friends of mine who are artists, trained in many different countries, over
many decades, contend that art is what the artist says it is. Philip was
trained as an artist and is as entitled to his opinion of art as anyone
"One could say however that a pack of Tarot cards does have bookness...."
Now we have come full circle.
"If anyone wishes to quote me with this (in its entirety please) on the
Internet or a Web-site page I give copyright permission to do so.
Philip Smith 1996"
>The Whatness of Bookness
> Thank you, Peter Verheyen, for your useful information on the
>bookbinding content of the Internet (DBNL No.95). I wish
>we all were 'on line'. There is however one item you ,mentioned and that
>concerns the discussions on the "Whatness of Bookness"
>within DB. Actually there is very little discussion in print on this topic
>in bookbinding circles; most of it seems implicitly to be within
>the artists' books area and between the makers of book objects. I coined
>the term 'bookness' in the 1970's (after reading in James
>Joyce's Ulysses of the 'horseness of horses' - the whatness of horses -
>this led me to coin it as 'the whatness of the book' or
>'bookness'), and I have written and spoken about it elsewhere, with
>various updates of understanding of the issue. Some
>references to 'bookness' appeared in my article in DB Review No.14 1979;
>in my introduction to the catalogue Modern British
>Bookbinding in 1985; in an essay in A Bookbinders' Florilegium produced by
>John Chalmers (HRHRC Texas, 1988). More
>recently a note appeared appended to my essay on Understanding the
>Physical Book Arts in The Private Library Journal 6:2,
>dated Summer 1993; in Umbrella magazine shortly after that, and in
>lectures in the USA and Canada in 1995. The following is a
>slightly revised version of the note to my essay:
> Bookness: The qualities which have to do with a book. In its simplest
>meaning the term covers the packaging of multiple
>planes held together in fixed or variable sequence by some kind of hinging
>mechanism, support, or container, associated with a
>visual/verbal content called a text. The term should not strictly speaking
>include pre-codex carriers of text such as the scroll or the
>clay tablet, in fact nothing on a single leaf or planar surface such as a
>TV screen, poster or hand-bill.
> 'Bookness' is however being stretched to include forms which carry a
>digitalized or electronic text such as a CD, a hard
>disk or a microchip, or miscellaneous forms such as spirals of paper with
>continuous text, or pyramids, dodecahedrons and other
>geometric multiplanar forms (which could also have text inscribed on
>them). I would not describe all these things as having the
>quality of bookness or being strictly covered by the definition. A blank
>book is still a book, but a blank dodecahedron or unmarked
>spiral of paper is not a book, it is a dodecahedron etc. A text is a text
>and not a book, but any other object one likes to imagine
>may perhaps be its conveyance. A text can be inscribed on anything but
>this does not make it a book, or have the quality of
>bookness, even as a scroll retains its scrollness without any text on it.
>A teddy bear with text on it is not a book! The book is not
>the text, although it is traditionally associated with it, and these two
>elements appear often to be mistaken for the same thing. The
>book is the hinged multi-planar vehicle or subs!rate on which texts,
>verbal, or tactile (the latter would include braille and other relief
>or embossed effects, found objects, pop-ups) maybe written, drawn,
>reproduced, printed or assembled.
> The large imposed sheets on which texts are printed before folding
>into quires or signatures are not yet in book form (the
>qualities of bookness have not yet been imparted to them); nor to
>microfilm or microfiches by which book texts may be scanned be
>described as having bookness. They would be considered in the single
>planar form as on a video monitor (or a painting for
>example), but when the same text is arranged into book form it then taken
>on the qualities of boo kness. It is questionable whether
>something becomes a book by being called such. The notion that an artist
>may call anything he likes a 'work of art' or a 'book',
>because he says so, is the extreme of sloppy thinking and contravenes
>everything we regard as leading to truth, notwithstanding
> In a story by Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451, there is a group of people
>who, in order to save them, memorise books, and
>are called "walking books"! Other similarly claimed substitutes abound in
>so-called book-artists' jargon, but the memories of books
>are not yet in book form, and so cannot be called books or have bookness.
>One could say however that a pack of Tarot cards does
>have bookness. It functions as a working group of loose-leaf planar
>surfaces with related images conveying textual matter in
>pictorial form. Traditional knowledge has it that the Tarot is in fact a
>philosophical treatise. The planes of a book have a necessary
>relationship or they simply become a collection of arbitrary planes for
>which a book format is not essential for the conveyed
>meaning. Many arbitrarily devised objects such as chewed or dissolved
>texts in bottles, etc., may or may not be art objects, but
>they are not objects with bookness. The book-maker's art should be
>distinguished from the art-maker's book. The book is generally
>thought of as a compact, conveniently portable mobile object (although
>there can be giant books, made of any material). The
>book, as book, has multiple planes because all the text or material it
>contains would be too unwieldy in a single planar form. There
>are book-like objects or appearances and object-like books, but that is a
> If anyone wishes to quote me with this (in its entirety please) on
>the Internet or a Web-site page I give copyright
>permission to do so.
> Philip Smith 1996
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>>>Drink and be merry, for our time is short and death lasts forever<<
>Peter D. Verheyen <wk> 315.443.9937
>Conservation Librarian <fax> 315.443.9510
>Syracuse University Library <email> pdverhey@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
>Syracuse University <www> http://web.syr.edu/~pdverhey/
>Syracuse, NY 13244 <listmgr> Book_Arts-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Laboratory
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR 97217